skip to Main Content

Czech Context

Prague Spring of 1968

At the end of 1967, even in the leadership of the Communist Party, more discussion began about the need to liberalize society and the economy. In 1968, censorship was even abolished. We call this short period of political relaxation in Czechoslovakia, which mainly included the spring and summer months, the Prague Spring. However, the revival processes of 1968 were forcibly interrupted by the Soviet Union, which organized the military occupation of Czechoslovakia. For more than 20 years, from August 21, when the troops of the Soviet Union and other armies of the so-called Warsaw Pact entered the territory of Czechoslovakia, until June 19, 1991, it was militarily occupied and controlled by the Soviet Union. A period of so-called normalization followed.

March 4, the Presidency of the KSČ (Communist Party of Czechoslovakia) decides to provisionally abolish censorship. In Czechoslovakia, there was complete freedom of the press and expression, which exceeded the limits of other socialist states and even the situation in the first Czechoslovak Republic (opinion after the historian Jan Rychlík).

August 20, around 11:00 p.m., the Warsaw Pact armies crossed the borders of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and put the Prague Spring democratization process to an end; it was followed by one of the largest waves of emigration in Czechoslovak history.

September, beginning of Normalization. Restoration of censorship (a new Office for Press and Information was established for this purpose), restriction on freedom of press and freedom of assembly, plus other measures were implemented. The democratization process was frozen and the pro-Soviet regime restored.


Normalization (Czech: normalizace)

Normalization is a term used in Czechoslovak history to refer to the period since the violent suppression of society’s reform processes in 1968 (Prague Spring) by the Soviet Union. This period lasted until 1989, the so-called Velvet Revolution. The normalization of social and especially political conditions brought with it a number of negative and tragic phenomena. The Communists were divided into those who accepted the occupation of Czechoslovakia and its return under Soviet rule and those who did not agree with this situation. These communists were expelled from the Communist Party, together with other opponents of the Soviet invasion, they were fired from their jobs, and they were socially persecuted. Particularly active civil (and artistic) protests were punished by imprisonment, expulsion, and social exclusion. Censorship was restored, a number of interests, political and cultural associations and organizations were abolished and replaced by organizations that followed the will of the Communist Party unreservedly and also adopted the central control, program and symbols of socialism. Even in the artistic sphere. The role was strengthened, for example, by the Union of Czechoslovak Visual Artists, which registered all artists. Without official membership in the union, the artist could not create, exhibit and sell his works.

Comparable to the term ‘Gleichschaltung.’


Three Torches of 1969

January 16, Jan Palach self-immolation in Wenceslas Square in Prague in protest at the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia.

February 25, Jan Zajíc, following the example of Jan Palach, burned himself to death in Wenceslas Square in Prague on the anniversary of the Communist Revolution of 1948 in Czechoslovakia.

April 4, Evžen Plocek, burned himself to death in protest at the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia and became the imaginary third torch.


Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE)

July 30–August 1, 1975, Final Act was signed in Helsinki by the representatives of 35 states. Besides security in Europe and cooperation in the fields of economy, science, technology and the environment, it also dealt with humanitarian issues, in particular respect for human rights. According to international law the entire document was not binding and could not be enforced. Representatives of Communist countries understood the confirmation of the validity of agreements on civil and human rights to be mere proclamations without any practical consequences and tried to disparage and misinterpret them. However, the proclamations of countries vowing to observe human rights resulted in the establishment of groups which were required to actually observe them in individual countries. For example Charter 77 with Václav Havel as the head was established in Czechoslovakia (1977), and Solidarność in Poland (1980, with Lech Wałęsa).


Charter 77

The Declaration of Charter 77 was published January 6 –7, 1977, with Václav Havel as a leader. Its aim was to document and reveal discrimination cases, and violation by the Communist government of their own legislation. Later it turned into an international dissident network developed in post-Yalta countries, Poland and Hungary included. The Chartists were interrogated by the State Police – house searches, bullying, police interrogations. Contacts with Polish dissidents were established. The regime feared that many people of Czechoslovakia would join Charter 77 and so it  launched a massive media campaign in order to frighten people on January 12. This culminated in the massive signing of an anti-Charter in the National Theatre on January 28.

Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia of 1989 (termed Gentle Revolution in Slovakia after dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993)

January 15, Palach’s Week: the twentieth anniversary of the death of the student Jan Palach was marked by a demonstration on Wenceslas Square. There was a brutal police response and many demonstrators were arrested. There was a response from the international press and protests by famous personalities and international organizations.

November 17,  the officially permitted student manifestation on the fifth anniversary of the death of the student Jan Opletal at Albertov in Prague turned into a spontaneous procession of people who expressed their discontent with the regime. The procession was stopped at the National Avenue in Prague by the brutal action of the State Police during which hundreds of people were injured. There was an immediate response: a protest strike by University and college students and people from the theater.

November 20-25, demonstrations were held on the Wenceslas Square, increasing pressure on the regime; demonstrations also spread to other Bohemian and Moravian towns.

November 27, a warning of general strike was held which became the climax of the Velvet Revolution.

December 23, end of the Iron Curtain: Ministers of Foreign Affairs Jiří Dienstbier and Hans-Dietrich Genscher (Federal Republic of Germany) cut the barbed wire on the borders between Czechoslovakia and Germany.

December 29, Václav Havel was elected the first post-Revolutionary President.


(by Štěpánka Bieleszová)


Hungarian Context

Hungarian Revolution of 1956

October 6, reburial of László Rajk, György Pálffy, Tibor Szőnyi and András Szalai, executed in a conception trial in 1949 and rehabilitated in 1955. The burial became a mass demonstration against the dictatorship.

October 23, university students organized a solidarity protest for Poland which was first banned, later authorized by the Minister of Internal Affairs. Protests started around Budapest. First shootings occurred in Debrecen. The armed conflict began at the building of the Hungarian Radio in Budapest in the evening of this day and lasted until November 4 when the Soviet offensive (supported by János Kádár, formerly taking a stand on the freedom fighters’ side) put an end to it.

October 24, Imre Nagy formed a coalition government. Nagy was elected the head of the Ministry Council by the Presidential Council. József Mindszenty, prime primate, (incarcerated in 1948) was released from the prison on October 31.

November 4, János Kádár (May 26, 1912–July 6, 1989) announced the formation of the counter-government. The revolution of 1956 was officially considered a counter-revolution and remained a dividing topic in the decades to come as the official authorities were extremely sensitive towards initiatives that put the history and circumstances of the revolution in a different light than the official interpretation of the events.  Imre Nagy, together with Pál Maléter (the Nagy government’s minister of defense) and Miklós Gimes journalist are executed in June, 1958, after a closed trial. As a consequence, there was a great wave of emigration from the country. The amnesty for those imprisoned was announced only in 1963.

Kádár Era

János Kádár, the leader (General Secretary) of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party and Prime Minister. He governed the country from 1956 until his retirement in 1988, the last year of state socialism in Hungary. Kádár’s rule became synonymous to the ’soft dictatorship’ that characterized Hungary of that period.

Three-T  System

Three-T system (tűr: to tolerate, tilt: to ban, támogat: to support) triple principle defined the Hungarian cultural policy from 1957 to the change of the regime in 1989. It is associated with the name of György Aczél, the most influential cultural politician of the Kádár era.

(by Kata Balázs)


Polish Context


August 14, 1980, the beginning of workers’ strike organized by Lech Wałęsa in the Gdańsk Shipyard in Poland, and then all over the country, which resulted in the establishment of the first independent trade union Solidarność (Solidarity) on August 31 (August Agreement or Gdansk Agreement). A period of liberalization and freedom of speech which ends with the imposition of martial law on December 13, 1981. It was the longest period of freedom of speech in the public sphere in the Soviet Bloc countries under totalitarian rule.


Timothy Garton Ash, The Polish Revolution. Solidarity.  First published 1983.

David Ost, Solidarity and the Politics of Anti-Politics. First published 1990.

Back To Top